As he departed the White House to spend the Labor Day weekend at the Camp David retreat, Donald Trump stopped to tell reporters that he possessed the “absolute right” to reveal a classified photo apparently taken by a United States intelligence aircraft, possibly a drone, showing the aftermath of a launchpad explosion at an Iranian space center, according to a CNN report. Trump revealed the photo on his Twitter account earlier in the day.
Presidents do have the legal authority to unilaterally declassify information, as ABC News reported. But the advisability of doing so from a national security perspective is a separate issue.
“We spend so much f*****g time to keep this s*** classified and away from enemy eyes, and POTUS just exposed it in a tweet,” one former national security official told Forensic News investigative reporter Scott Stedman, according to a Twitter post by Stedman.
The image tweeted by Trump on Friday came from a classified intelligence briefing, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke to CNBC. The image in Trump’s tweet appeared to be a second-generation photo of the classified image, snapped by someone during the briefing. Whether Trump himself or someone else took the photo remained unclear as of early Friday evening.
“I just wish Iran well,” Trump told reporters, as quoted via Twitter by CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. “They had a big problem and we had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do.”
Asked if he tweeted out classified information when he posted a photo of an explosion at an Iranian site, Trump initially denies it — but then says he has the absolute right to do it if he wants pic.twitter.com/SVyuwzRyEN
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 30, 2019
The photo tweeted by Trump “looks like it was taken from an airborne platform, not a satellite,” arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis told The Washington Post.
As The Inquisitr reported earlier, the high level of detail visible in the Trump-tweeted photo was surprising even to experts, who were unaware that the U.S. possessed capabilities to generate such clear intelligence images.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said satellite imagery expert David Schmerler, as quoted by Business Insider. “I know that [the U.S. military has] amazing capabilities, but I don’t know what this is.”
The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One. pic.twitter.com/z0iDj2L0Y3
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019
Experts told The Washington Post that the image was almost certain to be “highly classified” before Trump revealed it to the world on Twitter. The image also contains notations that appear to have been added by U.S. intelligence imagery analysts, such as a note pointing out “scorching and damage” on the north side of the launch pad, and another noting a “damaged support vehicle” near the launch site.
In his tweet, Trump denied that the launchpad explosion in Iran was caused by any U.S. action, but according to Lewis, even making the suggestion that the U.S. may have sabotaged the launch could be dangerous.
“I think it is extremely unlikely that the U.S. had anything to do with the explosion. And it’s a monumentally bad idea to hint that we might have,” the expert told CNBC.
Trump’s exposure of the classified image “will have global repercussions,” according to nuclear proliferation expert Joshua Pollack, as quoted by CNBC.